Preparing for a changing workforce: A food and drink supply chain approach to skills

Developing home-grown talent and improving workforce skills is a key priority of the UK food and drink industry

Executive Summary


The food and drink sector has a significant impact on the UK economy, employing over 4 million people spread across every nation, community and constituency in the UK.

Creating highly-skilled, well-paid, and home-grown talent is critical to realising our potential, and this can best be done by combining industry-led solutions to upskill and attract talent with related government activities, particularly the ongoing reforms to technical education.

This report highlights the existing difficulty in recruiting and the expected shortfall in labour and skills availability but also identifies opportunities for the sector to come together to deliver solutions that will transform its image as an employer and advance its training and skills development.


Our research findings show that, while the sector's workforce is stable in terms of its growth, staff turnover and length of service, businesses have reported increasing difficulties in recruiting new talent. Businesses recognise the need to act now to transform the sector's image and invest in training and skills development for the longer term.

Our research dispels myths around the sector:

  • Jobs in the food and drink sector are often perceived as low-skilled, but businesses are in fact looking to fill roles across all skill levels;
  • Projections on the ageing workforce profile show that agriculture and manufacturing are close to the wider economy average and food service sectors are below average;
  • The recruitment of temporary workers is not for cost-saving purposes – in fact, they are primarily recruited to manage demand changes;
  • The majority of businesses measure productivity, tending to use measures based on margins; and
  • Despite barriers, there is a recognition of the importance of apprenticeships in training existing staff and recruiting new talent.

Key results include:

  • Skills gaps across the whole supply chain differed significantly. Management and leadership, was commonly identified as both a training and recruitment gap across all sub-sectors.
  • One third of levy-paying respondents are having to 'write the Levy off as a tax', with key reasons including: uncertainty of how best to use it, a lack of training providers, and limited demand from existing staff to train as an apprentice.
  • Only 2% of businesses are spending their unused funds within the supply chain.


The recommendations below are the FDSC Workforce Skills Group's early priorities, with further work required in the next phase of the project to develop a clear implementation plan with specific commitments from industry and working in partnership with government.

To deliver technical and management skills and attract future talent through greater use of apprenticeships and offering T Level work placements across the sector.

  1. Create a Food Sector pilot fund to optimise Apprenticeship Levy usage and ensure access for all, including SMEs
  2. Industry pledge to deliver T Level work placements
  3. Government to prioritise Apprenticeships that drive productivity

To improve accessibility, sustainability and quality of training provision for sector businesses of all sizes and located in all regions of the UK.

  1. Create a National Network of Providers leading on Food Engineering and Technical skills

To professionalise leadership and managements skills across the sector; and to ensure sector managers are prepared for a changing workplace.

  1. Professionalisation of leadership and management skills through third party validation
  2. Place skills at the heart of a National Food Strategy to 'deliver well paid jobs' across the country
  3. Encourage passionate sector leaders to champion lifelong learning

Main Report

Last reviewed: 24 Oct 2019